Insurrection: A Review of Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S. A. Corey

This month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, where the first humans in history stepped foot on the Moon.  The first steps a human took on a celestial body other than the Earth.  For all of known history, we have looked to the stars and wondered what was out there.  Today, we know more than we ever have about the worlds beyond our own, but that has does nothing to stop people’s imaginations from filling in the blanks.  Tiamat’s Wrath is the latest novel in James S. A. Corey’s ground-breaking science fiction series, The Expanse.  Beginning in 2011 with Leviathan Wakes, these books have taken a realistic approach to fictional space travel, using the technology of today to extrapolate and imagine what space exploration may look like in the future.  It is not an exaggeration to say that The Expanse is one of the greatest works of modern science-fiction.

Over the last seven books, Corey has crafted a continuous tale about humanity’s first contact with alien technology, and how that affected the fragile structures of the human race.  Leviathan Wakes, the first novel, exposed a solar-system spanning conspiracy involving a private corporation performing reckless experiments on the protomolecule, a mysterious piece of ancient alien technology.  The reveal of this protomolecule exacerbated tensions between the governments on Earth, Mars, and the fragmented Belters, or those humans who lived in space stations or asteroids.  Exposing the conspirators to the system led to a radical shake up in power, weakening Mars and Earth, but unifying the system unexpectedly.  But this protomolecule also exposed new threats.  A network of portals leading to other solar systems, the discovery of abandoned alien space stations, the assembly of a massive pirate fleet, and the rise of a new rival empire.  Laconia secluded itself beyond one portal, where the settlers recklessly experimented with alien technology and gained limited mastery.  The previous book, Persepolis Rising, jumped ahead a number of years after the disappearance of the Laconian settlers, and introduced the burgeoning empire to the rest of humanity.

Tiamat’s Wrath takes place a year or so after the previous novel and Laconia’s conquest of Earth’s solar system.  With one ship, constructed and powered by alien technology not fully understood, Laconia defeated the combined forces of Earth, Mars, and the other political structures which had come to power over the years.  Captain James Holden, the hero readers have followed since the beginning, was captured by this new empire and is now held as a political prisoner in their capital, only treated well due to his personal exposure to the protomolecule and other alien technologies.  His former crew have split up and joined the small resistance against Laconian rule.  One perished off-page before the start of the book, and another disappeared on an espionage mission to Laconia’s capital city.  However, the book also brings in two additional point-of-view characters.  While the resistance slowly plans their attack, one of the empire’s top scientists is brought even further into their works, and the daughter of the emperor struggles to live up to the expectations placed on her while trying to find some measure of autonomy.

While all the other POV characters have been featured in previous novels, Tiamat’s Wrath introduces Teresa Duarte, daughter of the Laconian emperor Winston Duarte, for the first time.  The teenage princess of the Laconian empire, Teresa spends her days being groomed for leadership, although she is apparently unaware at first.  She has received the best education available, and has a carefully chosen group of classmates whom her father believes can eventually be useful to her rule.  However, her only friends are her father, his advisors, her dog Muskrat, and Timothy, a social outcast to Laconian society.  Teresa spends mot of her days simple going through the motions and engrossing herself in various books and movies.  Due to her upbringing, she is completely lacking in emotional maturity and personal desire.  The novel follows her life as she tries to gain some measure of personal freedom, and eventually take control of her own life after encountering the political prisoner, James Holden.  While the series has followed some characters consistently and allowed them to evolve in interesting ways, it is still refreshing to read a new perspective.

Tiamat’s Wrath also brings back a character last seen in book 4, Cibola Burn.  Elvi Okoye was a biologist originally living on one of the first colonies outside of Earth’s solar system.  In her debut novel, Elvi encountered alien machinery from the race that created the protomolecule, and a metaphysical, reality-transcending bullet left over from the enemy that killed them.  Through this exposure, she became one of humanity’s leading experts on everything extraterrestrial.  After Laconia’s conquest, she has become one of their top scientific minds and leads their expeditions to other solar systems, constantly searching for more.  Elvi’s chapters focus on her struggle to balance her need for discovery and scientific progress, with her knowledge that science can very easily become unethical.  Laconia’s only concern is military application, and we follow Elvi as she tries to push back against this military-first sensibility.  She sees the evils being perpetuated on a daily basis, but is unsure of what to do.

Corey, of course, also brings back some familiar faces, heroes we have been following from book one.  Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal, and Amos Burton began the series with James Holden and worked together to expose the original conspiracy.  They were later joined by former Martian marine Bobbie Draper and Clarissa Mao in later novels.  Tiamat’s Wrath and the previous novel, Persepolis Rising, take place after a many year time jump from book 6, Babylon’s Ashes.  Rather than keep the characters young, or invent some technology which keeps them perpetually youthful, the novel embraces their age.  Their ages range from mid-fifties to mid-sixties, which some characters going grey and others with completely white hair.  They have aches, pains, health issues.  These are aging action heroes who know they cannot keep acting like the young adventurers they used to be.  Since the defeat of the previous political structures and Laconia’s rise to dominance, the original heroes have joined the resistance, unwilling to allow the authoritarian regime of Winston Duarte to control everything.  They not only have to face military opposition, but a fascist propaganda machine hard at work rewriting recent history.

With the release of Tiamat’s Wrath earlier this year, only one novel remains in this excellent series.  The as-of-yet untitled Book 9 marks the grand finale of The Expanse.  Unlike many authors whose series last this long or become this popular, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (the writing duo behind James S. A. Corey) have been working from a fairly complete roadmap.  They know where the story is going and they have an idea of how it will end.  It is said that, before writing the first word, you should know the last. While it will be a sad day when this paragon of science-fiction finally ends, it is certain that the end will be nothing short of satisfying.

Tiamat’s Wrath can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 8 days

Next on the List: Fury of the Tomb, by S. A. Sidor

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